Today is a very special day. Not because it’s sunny, because it isn’t even though it’s Sunday, or because it’s the birthday of Pat Buttram, which it is, though since I’ve never heard of him despite his splendid surname I won’t bother celebrating. No, folks. It’s way better than that. It’s the 200th birthday of my home town Drammen. For this splendid reason, today’s blog post won’t be about Germany and her beers and breweries. Instead, I’ll venture down memory lane and become a bit nostalgic whilst crying homesick tears into my keyboard. If this sounds boring, rest assured that the topic of beer will also feature heavily.
Drammen was, as the sharpest amongst you have already figured out, founded on the 19th of June 1811 by joining the small hamlets Bragernes and Strømsø, situated north and south of the mighty Drammen river, into one large metropolis. Strategically placed where the river meets the cunningly named Drammen fjord, Drammen soon prospered, mainly due to the thousands of tonnes of timber being floated down the river every year and then loaded onto – or made into – ships in the local harbour, unsurprisingly known as the Drammen harbour.
|The Drammen fjord in the foreground with the city behind|
A decade or five later the industrial revolution hit the country, and some clever chaps realized that the wood could be turned into paper before leaving the city, thereby substantially increasing its value. Drammen therefore turned itself into an industrial city with dozens of paper mills lining the river and a substantial number of shipping companies that exported the paper to most corners of the globe. The workers employed at the factories were obviously very thirsty after a day of hard labour, so a handful of breweries also sprang up to provide relief for dry throats.
One of these breweries was started in 1834, and eventually evolved into the wonderful Aass Brewery we know today (note that “Aass” is pronounced to rhyme with “laws”, at least if you have a Britishish accent). The last paper mill has long since closed, and the city has gone through the usual post-industrial decline followed by an urban regeneration programme resulting in a myriad of prizes and an improved reputation, but the brewery has – so far – remained a stable presence throughout the ups and downs. Known for its quality products and dedication to brewing good beer, it is one of the few things in Drammen which has always been a source of pride for the city’s inhabitants. As such, the brewery enjoys a tremendous local loyalty. More than once have the big multinational brewery giants such as Carlsberg tried to enter the market in Drammen with their carbonated piss, and every time have the people of Drammen voted with their feet. The latest incident happened just a few weeks ago, and it will be interesting to see what will happen to the two bars concerned once they start serving Carlsberg in September. One thing is certain: they won’t be dispensing a lot of beer to people who grew up in Drammen.
|The Aass brewery sitting prettily by the river|
My own experience of growing up in Drammen in the 80s was very positive. I guess parents were a bit less paranoid back then, so my friends and I were allowed to play unsupervised from age nine or so, which we enjoyed tremendously whether it involved skiing in the woods, climbing the shipping cranes at the harbour or playing football in the schoolyard. Moreover, since I always knew that it was my patriotic duty to support the local brewery, I also made sure that I taught myself to like beer as soon as I was not yet old enough to drink legally.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridges than join the two halves of Drammen together since then, and I have had the pleasure of living in cities such as Trondheim, Brisbane, Oxford and Konstanz. Nice cities, sure, but none of them have a brewery to compare with Drammen’s. Now don’t get me wrong, even I realise that there are more important things in life than drinking beer, but I still think that a great brewery loved by the locals is one of the finest features of a city. Sadly, I am not in Drammen to celebrate this weekend, and neither do I have a beer from the Aass brewery to celebrate with. Nevertheless, I will toast my home town in an appropriate manner today, and wish everyone back there a very happy birthday.
My keyboard is now completely soaked with tears, and I am in grave danger of crossing the line between being boringly nostalgic and annoyingly soppy, so perhaps it’s time to stop writing. Besides, the sun has just made an appearance, and there are some cold drinks in the fridge awaiting my attention. I therefore say cheers, skål, slainte, iechyd da, prost, terviseks, kippis and kampai to Drammen, and round off with a slightly modified quote from Shakespeare: “An Aass! An Aass! My kingdom for an Aass!”.